In theory I ought to be able to compile such a summary from stuff I've written before. In practice, in the time it takes to find the right excerpts, then edit them so they fit together and fit the audience, I might as well start from scratch. Plus there is the possibility that, in forcing yourself to improvise, you come up with a better way of expressing an idea that has previously eluded concise articulation.
So that's what I did. I'm not sure how successful it was — feel free to tell me in the comments. Since I'm speaking to an audience primarily concerned with policy and the 'creative economy', I thought I'd emphasise the anarchic nature of discovery and Web 2.0 to see how that grabs people. My summary is below (click the "continue reading" link if you're reading this on the home page).
Meanwhile a quick mention that I apparently can invite two guests for next week's MusicTank discussion — featuring Tom Robinson, Andrew Keen, Paul Brown from Pandora, me and others — for free. If you'd like to be my guest (it's in London), please add a comment or get in touch
The culture we choose to explore makes us who we are. It's a truism now that we have more choice in our listening, reading, viewing, playing and digital schmoozing than ever before. In his model of the "Long Tail" of niche consumer interests, Chris Anderson's prescription for the new era is, "First, make everything available; and second, help me find it."
The on-demand availability of everything, and the choice it confers to step inside anyone's cultural shoes, brings with it responsibilities and anxieties as well as excitement. The act of discovery — what are you going to watch next? — moves to centre stage.
Many enterprises want to help with discovery: Amazon, Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, Last.fm, the BBC. But one of the most powerful (and truly "cross-platform") media is word of mouth and the reputation that accrues via the exchanges in blogs, recommendations, fan sites, and flash mobs.
The anxieties are expressed via variations on old dystopias like 1984's Big Brother and the Tower of Babel. I do not underestimate the issues of privacy and of harnessing huge volumes of opinion that talk past each other. Nevertheless I am optimistic about the scope for the latest web technologies (known as Web 2.0) to experiment with ways of solving them.
Anarchists have generations of experience of how people work together in spontaneous and unregulated settings. Let's steal their intellectual property. Let's see if and when Web 2.0 can provide the technological fix, via aggregation and filtering of user-generated data, to avoid the dead ends that anarchists often ran into.
Our path must go beyond treating the masses as an undifferentiated mass. In almost every area it is minorities that are dedicated fans and followers. It's minorities that express themselves in online forums; most just 'lurk'. Although anyone can edit Wikipedia entries, only a minority do, and only a tiny minority create new entries.
The experiments of Web 2.0 are helping us understand the dynamics of participation and how these affect leadership, influence and word of mouth on a large scale. They give us the scope to forage across wider areas of culture than the old mass media permitted. The experiments will uncover circumstances where governance needs enhancing (Wikipedia is a case in point), but with the right checks and balances we just might be able to create systems that both foster consensus and stimulate challenges to that consensus if and when it goes stale.
I propose three levels to what I call the Net, Blogs and Rock'n'Roll 'architecture of discovery':
- The Net is the data-crunching and underground plumbing that processes massive volumes of user behaviours and spots the trends and patterns within them.
- Blogs are the human level of conversation, not as 'clean' and quantitative as the data level, but enriched by personality, trust and shared history.
- Rock'n'Roll is the spirit that keeps us interested in exploring the edges of our culture, and that inveighs against yesterday's consensus.